Painkillers And Athletes

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Two pills.

That’s how it started for Shane Olivea after he had finished his first season with the San Diego Chargers. Shane  was named  NFL’s All-Rookie team. But pro football had taken a toll on his body and a teammate told him about a friend who could get him something. A couple of pops of Vicodin seemed innocent at the time but three years later he was out of the NFL, largely because of an addiction to painkillers and later snorting  OxyContin, an opioid, before taking to the field for games.

He described his situation as “playing under the influence,” and described it like feeling he had a couple of drinks.

“You’re high, you’re stoned,” he said. “I wasn’t loopy. I was high, you get a high effect . . . You’re not drunk but you’re buzzed. You know you’re buzzed. You’re coherent but you’re not all there.”

By then, he was already hooked.

“The best way I describe it to people is I was married to football and the pills were my mistress,” Olivea said and he kept them secret from the team and other players. “Within a four-year span my mistress was sitting at the dinner table and my wife was not in the house anymore. It sucked the life out of me. It affected every relationship I had, especially with my teammates.”

Olivea knew he wasn’t the only one who has gone through an NFL career high on painkillers. More alarming — and more well-documented — are the rates at which former players removed from the structure and resources of their NFL teams turn to the pills that are so easily available.

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A 2010 study of NFL veterans by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis focused on painkillers specifically and found that 7 percent of the former players were currently using painkilling opioid drugs and 71 percent of those who used opioids during their career — prescription drugs such as oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet —  said they “misused” them.

The bottom line of the study: Former players are roughly four times more likely to use painkilling opioid drugs than the general population. That naturally increases the likelihood of addiction, which is already at epidemic proportions in the Unites States. According to federal statistics, more than 2 million Americans are addicted to painkillers.

Former Jets quarterback Ray Lucas  became hooked on opioid painkillers as well after his career ended because of a neck injury. With no insurance he couldn’t afford corrective surgery, so he began dulling the “excruciating” pain with medication. Like Olivea, he started out with just a few pills.

“Before you know it, you go from 100 pills  to 400 pills, to 800 pills a month, which you don’t get from doctors,” said Lucas, who was receiving prescriptions from three different doctors and also buying on the black market, a habit that nearly bankrupted his family. “I was getting them from everywhere. Anything I could get my hands on. Roxies, oxys, Percocets, Vicodins. You name it, I took it, whatever the strength was.”

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That’s why getting into treatment is so crucial to saving your life. When you think about the number of players that have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people — most notably athletes — with a history of repetitive brain trauma it doubles the odds of recovery.

John Mackey, a star at Hempstead High School who played at Syracuse University and then enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts, was diagnosed with dementia. Complications from the disease made him take his life on July 6, 2011, at age 69. The diagnosis and death were reminders about the dangers of concussions and how they impact players after they leave the game. Former players suffer in varying degrees from the head injuries, chronic pain increased their likelihood to addiction. While the NFL has instituted some safety measures to reduce the incidence of concussions, it is too late for the former players who now deal with the aftereffects.

According to the NFL, the number of concussions suffered in preseason and regular-season practices and games during the 2013 season dropped  from the 2012 season. The numbers, however, does not include concussions suffered in playoff games.

Still, there are no guarantees that today’s players and those who will eventually play in the NFL will avoid concussion-related problems, chronic pain or addiction. Pure Recovery California was developed as one of the leading treatments centers in the country that treat the trifecta of what can happen to professional athletes. With an advisory board of leading brain scientists, addictionologists, PhD’s and neuro-pharmacologists and MD’s, PRCA brings the most innovative, multi-disciplinary, scientific, medical and holistic body-mind-spirit treatment  including regenerative medicine to patients suffering from Addiction, Chronic Pain and Traumatic Brain Injury. With their unique treatment modalities Pure Recovery CA specializes in sophisticated  comprehensive care, using the latest neuroscience driven treatment and behavior modification. Their mission is to restore athletes back to a life of hope  and create a solid foundation for lasting change after the game is over.

See main article on Brain Trauma and Addiction

Painkillers And Athletes

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